5G is coming to Australia

iphoneWhat if the volume of traffic on your local roads increased tenfold overnight? It would be gridlocked. That is the sort of increase we expect on telecommunication networks over the next few years as data volumes radically increase.

Here is how we are preparing to make sure we continue to provide customers with the best network experience.

A set of technologies come straight to mind when I think about the future.

A ubiquitous Internet of Things. Autonomous vehicles. Virtual and augmented reality. Smarter smartphones. Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Technology that creates personalised customer experiences that bring simplicity instead of added complexity.

All of these technologies not only exist today, they are fast becoming mainstream.

All of these technologies have already signaled just how profoundly they will change our world.

And all of these technologies rely on the quality of the underlying telecommunication networks.

Evolution will give way to revolution

None of the capabilities of today’s 3G and 4G networks are accidental. Development and investment has been constant and technical evolution rapid. 1G – the first generation – in the mid-80s was basic voice on an analogue network.

Next came 2G in the early 90s that combined talk and text, then 3G linking wireless connectivity with digital networks to make internet access possible on a mobile phone. 4G took it a step further with higher speeds and lower latencies that improve video viewing.

Until now, network development has largely been evolutionary but the next generation – 5G – will be revolutionary.

And it needs to be because while 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G were primarily about voice and then data, 5G will be about everything and the Internet of (billions of) Things.

The best way to understand 5G is to realise that it is more than just a faster, better and more efficient network for mobile phones.

What sets 5G apart from earlier generations is its ability to respond to signals almost instantaneously.

The latency (the sometimes frustrating lag between a request for data being sent and the data being received) on a 5G level is reduced to insignificant levels.

On an older 3G phone, latency was around 100 milliseconds. Ten years of development and investment meant 4G latency was down to 30 milliseconds.

With 5G though, typical latency will be as little as 4 milliseconds and may go as low as 1 millisecond for ultra-critical IoT applications.

Why does that matter? It matters because while we may be able to put up with one tenth of a second delay when sending a photo – that length of delay will not work in the emerging body of applications requiring virtually instant response times.

For example self-driving cars will need to be able to react almost instantly to obstacles and traffic directions to be able to safely navigate autonomously through busy traffic.

Minimal delay means doctors will be able to perform surgery remotely. It means sensor-laden houses and factories, smart electricity grids and other infrastructure will make adjustments without human intervention and deliver huge efficiencies and cost savings.

It means conversations in foreign languages will be able to be translated instantaneously. It means things we have not even dreamt of yet.

And most of all, it means the importance, reliability and capability of telecommunication networks – which will make all of this possible – will never have been more important.

Planning for an unknown future

What is really interesting about planning and building a 5G network (which we will have operational in Australia by 2019/20) is that the full range of opportunities will not be clear when the networks are launched.

They will evolve with the market and with technology advances.

We know where we have come from, we know where we are (and certainly how to get your photos quickly to your photo sharing sites) but we have no real idea what types of things the network will enable in the future.

Because with 5G what we can imagine it will do is likely nothing compared with what it will actually end up doing. In that way 5G, like the future, is inventing itself.

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